Friday is Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs. The power-packed, 13-race program is a prelude to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. It’s attracted many full fields, but a dark cloud looms over the proceedings.
That doesn’t mean anything is wrong, just that it’s going to pour. The National Weather Service says Louisville could see an inch of rain or more Friday, so adjust your handicapping accordingly.
With that in mind, I’m steering clear of turf races for the time being. Any insight I give would be contingent on them running on the grass, which isn’t guaranteed. Still, there are plenty of chances to make some money, so let’s dive in!
Extracting value in the fourth
I won’t beat around the bush: If #7 Juju’s Map is ready to run, she probably wins. A Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, she’s been off since running second to Echo Zulu last November. She’s been working consistently for Brad Cox and looms large here.
However, I can’t help but be drawn to a much bigger price. #5 Semble Juste almost certainly needed her 2022 debut. That was her first start in four months, and she was wide around both turns that day. In addition, she’s shown she loves wet tracks, especially at Churchill Downs. Her off-track races beneath the Twin Spires last fall were quite good, and a similar effort gives her a shot here.
I’ll key both on top of exactas, with #8 Illiogami and #9 Tabor Hall underneath. I’ll also have an exacta box with just my top two, plus a small win bet on Semble Juste. If Juju’s Map is fully-cranked, she’s a likely winner, but if she isn’t, I’ve got a chance at a nice score.
- $2 exactas: 5,7 with 5,7,8,9
- $2 exacta box: 5,7
- $4 win: 5
No sympathy for the devil in the La Troienne
The Grade 1 La Troienne is always a fun race that attracts some top-notch older females. This includes #2 Shedaresthedevil, who won this race a season ago and is the 6/5 morning line favorite. However, I’m against her in this spot.
As the great Harvey Pack was fond of saying, “never bet a horse, as the favorite, doing something it’s never done before.” Shedaresthedevil, for all of her accolades, has never run on a wet track. Her off-track pedigree is okay, but nothing special, and I can’t recommend her at 6/5 when she’s trying something for the first time.
I think #6 Pauline’s Pearl will drift up from her 2-1 morning line price, and that she’s a more likely winner. Toss last year’s Kentucky Oaks, and you’re left with a filly that just hasn’t done much wrong. She was second behind the ultra-talented Ce Ce in the Grade 2 Azeri last time out, and she beat Shedaresthedevil in that spot. She’s won her only start to date over a wet track, so we know that shouldn’t be an issue, and she’s in career-best form to boot.
In addition to a win bet on Pauline’s Pearl, I’ll play her in small exactas with two longshots (just in case Shedaresthedevil doesn’t fire). #1 Jilted Bride is another closer that likes the mud, and #3 Temper Time has tactical speed and comes in off of two wins in a row.
- $10 win: 6
- $2 exacta box: 6 w/1,3
A note on the Kentucky Oaks
If you’re looking for more on the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, you can find it here on Playfecta. I remain incredibly bullish about #7 Echo Zulu. She’ll be a single on many of my tickets regardless of the weather and/or track condition.
However, the more I look at #2 Nostalgic, the more I think she could hit the board at a big price. She’s bred to love a wet track (being by Medaglia d’Oro and out of a Tapit mare), and her form looks far better if you toss her dud in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant, a turf race. She’s 3-for-4 on dirt, has shown an ability to rate, and could get the trip and moisture she wants here.
I still think Echo Zulu is on a different level. However, if you’re playing exactas and/or trifectas, I wouldn’t leave Nostalgic out.
Wait, there’s racing after the Kentucky Oaks?
The Oaks goes as the 11th race. If you’re sticking around after the big race, there are two more chances to make money, and I think the Friday finale is fascinating.
I’ll lean on two horses heavily in this maiden race. #8 Colorful Mischief is my top pick, and I can’t see how she’ll be her 5-1 morning line price at post time. This first-time starter is trained by Todd Pletcher and enters her debut effort having fired nothing but bullet drills since early April. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride this $300,000 auction purchase, and I think she’s very well-meant.
One that may drift up from the morning line price, though, is #6 Little Blaze. Judging by her layoff lines, it’s safe to assume there have been some issues with her. However, she ran well when second in a similar competition last month at Keeneland. This will be her first-ever start without a long break. I’m interpreting this as a sign she’s doing well, and a step forward second off the bench would give her a chance at a nice price.
They’ll be the two horses I’ll need in multi-race exotics ending in the last of 13 races. In addition, I’ll use #9 Rather Be Lucky and #10 Merci Road underneath in exactas. The big field should ensure some nice probables, especially if Little Blaze is prominently involved.
- $2 exactas: 6,8 with 6,8,9,10
- $2 exacta box: 6,8